How Not To Choose Music For a Commercial

Ruth Simmons
July 14, 2020

Choosing music for a commercial…Brand strategy is fundamental to any campaign

Confectionary company Choc-a-block has a busy few months ahead. This well-established brand is launching its first new chocolate bar in years and is developing a big-budget television campaign. Ed, the company’s CMO, is feeling positive. He has invested months to redefine the brand values and promise. He picks up the phone and arranges a date with Sam and Jim, the Planner and Account Directors at his advertising agency Brands-R-Us.

The agency briefing

The briefing meeting is long and extensive. The whole account team is present. Sam and Jim listen intently, making copious notes, consulting conspiratorially with each other, before heading over to Rick, the Creative Director. Rick finally produces his creative brief after many angst-ridden weeks. He considers which of his teams should be chosen to work up his creative ideas. This is an important client for the agency, which will require the best creative minds. With the presentation to Ed in just three days time, tension is high and the adrenalin flowing.

The agency get ready to present

In an ideal world, Sam and Jim would have selected their most experienced TV producers, but they are booked out on two other jobs. Jim, however, is confident that Sue, recently promoted to full TV producer after working with the Head of TV for three years, is ready to handle this. She is their rising star. They all work twelve-hour days, preparing the storyboards, designing the animatics and getting the computer graphics ready. For the presentation, the boardroom has been lavishly transformed into a desert island to give authenticity to the grandest of the creative ideas.

The big day arrives

U2’s A Beautiful Day boomsfrom the speakers. Ed is blown away. He wants this film out on air within six months. But this is an extravagant shoot and there’s a lot of work to do. Budgets are finalized, and issues such as the Director (well, he is expensive but he is the best), location (we need authenticity) and actors (it’s got to be Angelina) are sorted. Finally, the fifty-man crew lands on location in Hawaii.

Back at the editing suite: Securing music for a commercial isn’t always a given

The rushes arrive and the agency is delighted. The footage looks great, the actress looks sexy and the chocolate bar looks delicious. Happy with the result, the Editor turns to Rick: “What about music?” Ed looks up. “I thought we were having that U2 track, it’s ideal music for a commercial. Its what sold me the idea in the first place.” Faces go blank.

Did anyone check on U2? Sue excuses herself from the session. She thinks that she has heard somewhere that U2 are impossible to clear. She panics. But hang on, what about that cute guy from that music industry party last week? Didn’t he mention he worked at a record company and had set up as a Music Supervisor? She makes the call.

“Oh hi there, it’s Sue – we met last Friday? I’m really hoping you can help. We’re looking for an uplifting, optimistic, catchy piece which encourages snacking and contains overtones of a Hawaiian beach party. If it sounds a bit like that U2 track, all the better. Oh, and by the way, play-out is in three days time and I have about £10,000 left for all usages…”

Sue knows that the spend on sound has been starkly disproportionate to filming and other production costs. There was an over-shoot on the filming because the director they had to have missed the sunset shot. Those two extra days shooting was her wiggle room in the budget.

She looks at her choices. She can go in and explain that U2 don’t do commercials and that this had been highlighted as a difficulty at the pitch. Not a great idea – everyone knows that clients generally fall in love with the track presented at the pitch, especially if that track has been used throughout the development of the film. 

She can try to talk to the editors and get their input and find another track with her new best friend. They can always say the U2 track doesn’t fit the final edit that everybody loves. The editors may just collude – the agency is an important client for them!

Or they can come clean with the client, risk the wrath and then present another track, all rights-cleared and in the budget.

What would you do?

The bottom line: Always clear your music for a commercial from the get-go.

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